Terry B's reviewed
Ambitious menu, laid-back setting
by Bix Engels
Terry B's is a study in contrasts. Its nineteenth-century Greek Revival house pops out on Dexter's stately Ann Arbor Street in twenty-first century gold and purple. The dining tables are dressed in white cloths, the silver and glassware sparkle-but instead of the hushed tones that all this glitter might imply, the sound level is lively and the flat screens behind the bar are always on. And then there's the tree-shaded deck-a gloriously laid-back setting for Terry B's ambitious menu.
I showed up with friends after a miles-long hike through nearby Hudson Mills Metropark, and the host didn't bat an eye at our jeans and T-shirts as we headed for the outdoor seating. We celebrated under the swishing leaves by sipping a glass of crisp Gruet brut. One bonus for wine drinkers here is that when you order by the glass, the servers pour generously from the bottle at the table, allowing guests to taste the wine before they fill the glass.
Terry B's rolled out a new summer menu on June 3, and I sampled almost the whole list of appetizers over several visits. It helped that, at the bar or on the deck, some starters are half price during happy hour, 4 until 7 p.m. A few of these small plates, shared among several of us, were substantial enough for us to forgo a main course.
We liked the pretty tempura-sushi roll of velvety tuna and flaked crab wrapped in rice and nori, neatly sliced and stacked (chef Doug Hewitt Jr. is really into stacking stuff) and arranged just so on the plate with wasabi and ginger (he's really into arranging, too). A tempura-battered and deep-fried soft-shell crab appetizer special was startlingly good, crispy outside with that rich, sweet crabmeat flavor inside. Soft-shell crab is not in season long, so if it's featured the day you stop in, order it.
The kitchen uses a good cheese, made by Four Corners Creamery in Tecumseh, for its fried mozzarella, served with
grilled fennel, greens, avocado, and grape tomatoes drizzled with balsamic vinegar. The steamed mussels missed the boat-the broth, usually the most wonderful aspect of moules, was oddly flavorless, although that made it less disappointing that the kitchen forgot the promised crispy baguette for sopping up the juices. I loved the plump patties of ground tenderloin on a dense house-made herb roll set off with tart house-made pickles and served with almost airy gaufrette-style potato crisps.
Far and away the most interesting, rare, and refined starters are those involving meats and fish that Hewitt has smoked or cured. The restaurant has two smokers out back just off the kitchen, and meats are air-cured in the basement.
With its high-quality components needing no further to-do, the "Dexter Plate" is the most simply arranged appetizer-just slices of air-dried chorizo, layered chicken-vegetable terrine, duck "bacon," and prosciutto, each with a simple adornment-a dash of caraway mustard, a wedge of pickled onion, a sliver of baby artichoke heart. The smoked fish plate was similarly simple-and equally fabulous: thin rounds of sea scallops; a flaky dry-smoked salmon; a scoop of fish salad. The smokery meats also show up in two exemplary salads: a salty, crispy duck confit balanced with the sweetness of mango slices and berry fruits over tossed mesclun; and an update on the Waldorf salad with smoked chicken, cashews, cherries, and apples, and a swirl of a pomegranate reduction, topped with grilled bread and a little bunch of mizuna greens.
I found Terry B's signature corn and seafood chowder overly thick, and three wee shrimp on top seemed to stretch the definition of seafood, but others at the table liked it. A summery asparagus veloute was superbly textured but tasted more like pea soup than asparagus. A flat-bread pizza's delicious toppings were presented on a rock-hard bread platform. Plus, it seemed to take forever to make it.
The summer menu balances beef and seafood main courses, and also includes two new vegetarian mains-mushroom risotto and potato gnocchi-that I did not get a chance to try. One offering that stays on the menu throughout the year is the elegantly interpreted whitefish. The sweet, mild fish filets are coated with a thin crushed-cashew crust, sautéed, and served with a creamy risotto spiked with crisp slivers of asparagus.
The kitchen nearly always offers a seafood special of the day. The centerpiece of my barramundi special, a pan-seared filet, was overcooked and hence on the dry side, but other elements made up for the seafood's shortcomings: the fish was stacked on a giant rice cake, resembling a lush monster aroncini ball with a creamy rice center and crisp breaded exterior and very smoky bits of house-cured bacon. Similarly, two of four scallops were an off-putting sort of pearly gray rather than seared, but the plate was not a total loss, thanks to the accompanying sweet po-tato hash. Terry B's rib-eye steak was satisfying on several levels. It was a quality piece of meat, perfectly cooked, and its accompaniments-truffle French fries, charred broccolini, roasted onions-were interesting without being fussy.
Desserts were very good. Even the ubiquitous molten chocolate cake was a cut above the usual, with a dark, rich chocolate center. I preferred the key lime pot de crème, a tart custard contrasting with an accompanying fruity swirl of house-made strawberry gelato. One night we swooned over a pecan tart baked in a shortbread crust and served with the house's coffee gelato. Another night we laughed about the architecture of the "Tropical Tower." You don't need Freud to figure out what they were thinking when they built this: a crisp, tan vertical tube stuffed with cubed citrus fruits, planted upright in a soft circle of crustless cheesecake, and topped with an explosion of whipped cream. Once we stopped laughing, it was a pleasing contrast of textures and flavors.
Service, particularly outside on slow weeknights, can be a bit of a rollercoaster: lots of attention when you don't want it-for instance, a curious waiter hovering over water glasses waiting for the punch line on a diner's story-contrasted with long stretches of inattention. Service is always better inside than out and better on busy nights, when there are more servers and they seem more in sync with the restaurant's rhythm.
On those nights, the pace can be nearly perfect, with enough time between courses that the meal feels leisurely but not tedious. It can set the mood for the rest of the evening, especially in summer. After dinner, we always wander through the village, past the fragrant gardens and clipped lawns, on Friday nights maybe catching a few sets at the Monument Park concerts before heading home.
Terry B's Restaurant and Bar
7954 Ann Arbor St. Dexter
Tues.-Thurs. 4-10 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 4-11 p.m. Closed Sun.-Mon.
Appetizers $9-$12, soups and salads $5-$8, entrées $18-$27, desserts $6.50.
Easily accessible for disabled (side entrance for wheelchairs)
[Originally published in July, 2009.]
On May 12, 2012, Bobby Frank wrote:
Happening across this old review by Bix Engels reminded me of what a stellar restaurant reviewer she was. She is sorely missed. Bix, I hope you are doing well and eating even better!